If this page is about eco driving – meaning economical and ecologically supportive – then it has to be as much about the cars that we can buy, and we choose to buy, as it does about how we drive them. In the few years since Dieselgate, we diesel drivers have had to accept a lot of flak from the media, and seen plenty of humble pie eaten by the manufacturers. In response, the regulators tightened up the critical testing that certifies both the key emissions and the fuel economy of our cars. That has involved us now having to accept more realistic claimed fuel economy figures that are way down on those published only a few years back, but have a far more realistic feel about them. For all this, we know that manufacturers are still “gaming” the regulatory test processes and doing it (again) with the complicity of the regulators, so that the EU can have another stab at impressing the rest of the world with its climate rescue act. The last such campaign, involving setting long-term EU targets for car CO2 emissions, ran from 2009, after the manufacturers failed to meet the previous voluntary targets. A fleet average target of 130g/km for 2015 was met, on paper, and a new fleet average target of 95g/km was set for 2020/21, with a one year phase in period. That’s 79mpg for diesel and 69mpg for petrol, by the way! But by 2017, the average was still 119g/km, leaving only three years to get a further 24g/km reduction by 2020/21. The CO2 reductions had simply stalled, as a result of the more realistic fuel economy figures. No surprise then that the manufacturers are now concerned about the penalty charges for exceeding those targets that could hit £25 billion.
Well, one result of the Dieselgate affair, and all the subsequent anti-diesel legislation, and bad publicity that knocked diesel sales back, was the switch to petrol power, creating a significant rise in overall European car CO2 emissions in 2018, rather than a helpful decline. That made prospects of matching the 95g/km 2020/21 target
even more grim. Some manufacturers are relying on special “supercredits” from sales of zero emissions electric cars, that can be used to offset those from more polluting vehicles. That explains the deluge of battery electric models that will be arriving on the market in the next year, although volumes of electric car sales are unlikely to account for more than a few per cent of the car market. But manufacturers are still launching large petrol and diesel-guzzling SUVs weighing over two tonnes, like our long-term 2.0 litre Land Rover Discovery Sport SD4, with its hardly impressive real world 33.8mpg, and 194g/km of CO2 – over twice that EU target! But full employment, easy PCP finance, and low interest rates have made such cars more affordable, with the Discovery Sport bagging third place in the August diesel sales charts! Just when cars should be getting smaller, they are getting bigger, thirstier, and neither the continuing trend from diesel to petrol, nor the increasing taxation of car ownership and benefits, is helping.
So, whilst we are all hopefully hanging onto our enthusiasm for diesel power, manufacturers are chopping diesel variants from their smaller car ranges, whilst struggling to meet the tough CO2 targets.
I saw a real glimmer of diesel hope recently though, on reading Ian Robertson’s glowing report on the new SsangYong Korando. The engine size has dropped to 1.6-litres, down from the old model’s 2.2-litres, yet maintains decent peak torque of 240lb ft. The Korando has shed 100kgs in kerb weight, is now 6mpg more economical, and puts out just 144g/km of CO2. Engine downsizing is a great way to cut emissions and, decently priced, the Korando looks to me like the sort of diesel vehicle that might, and certainly ought to, sell surprisingly well, and help drive the diesel revival. I’m not sure that I can be as enthusiastic about the new all-diesel powered Audi “S” performance range, although their low sales volumes aren’t single-handedly going to hasten global warming, and they won’t be a natural choice for those who keep a close eye on fuel economy, as the 39.8mpg and 166g/km CO2 of the S4 TDI quattro demonstrates. But looking from an EcoCar perspective, does the world really need them?